The only thing more revolutionary than the discovery of the wheel, has been humankind’s insistence on finding ways to make it spin faster.
And as driving, and more specifically, racing, speeds continue to rise, so has the need to preserve the driver.
One alternative comes from UK-based Roborace. Their safety measure involves removing humans from the driver’s seat altogether, and replacing them with autonomous technologies and artificial intelligence.
At this point most racing fans, myself included, are rolling their eyes and relishing how NASCAR, F1 and other circuits are the perfect meld of man and machine. But imagine combining the knowledge and instincts of racing’s legendary drivers, without exposing them to the dangers that have taken such greats as Dale Earnhardt and Aryton Senna.
The series would run on Grand Prix courses and use a car designed by Daniel Simon – whom the Robocar website describes as an automotive futurist. Simon created the vehicles seen in movies like Tron: Legacy and Oblivion.
The prototype weighs just over 2,100 pounds, measures just under 16’ long and is 6.5’ wide. It also uses four 300 kW electric motors, which are the equivalent of 400 hp, and a 540 kW battery to move a predominantly carbon fiber body at top speeds of 200 mph.
The cars use a number of autonomous technologies, including five unique LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) platforms, two types of radar, 18 ultrasonic sensors, two optical speed sensors, six AI cameras and global navigation satellite system positioning to navigate the track or course.
The brain of the vehicle is Nvidia’s Drive PX2 platform, which is capable of up to 24 trillion AI operations per second. So while the hardware is relatively standard, the differences would resonate in a team’s ability to optimize the supercomputer and driverless software.
So the series would basically serve as an open lab for developing safer, high-performance driverless cars.
Robocar recently completed one lap of the 1.1-mile Paris Formula E circuit without human assistance. Glitches were apparent as the car ran slowly and had to be stopped after getting too close to track boundaries.
So racecar drivers – your jobs are safe for now.